Part 13: If You Wanna Get To Heaven
I was kind of embarrassed to have Summer riding in my car. I had been living out of it for so long I was afraid it might say something about how I was as an individual. I needn’t have worried, because she delighted over the whole ‘living in my car’ look. “Don’t you just hate cars that are immaculately clean?” she asked. “You have to wonder if anyone ever drives the darn thing. If there ain’t trash in the back floorboard, you wasted your money.”
“Then I definitely got my money’s worth,” I replied, looking over to the back floorboard, at all the empty soda bottles and fast food bags.
She patted my hand for reassurance. “Don’t worry, I don’t think you’re a messy guy. Cute when you blush, yes. Messy, no.”
Of course I blushed, and she laughed at my embarrassment. “Ha! Love it!” she squealed in delight. “Let’s ride, Clyde.”
I started the car and backed out the drive to the gravel road. As I turned onto the gravel, she reached for the stereo and turned it on.
“Let’s see what there is to sing to tonight,” she said, as the car was filled with some mid-nineties grunge song. “Nope, not that. I grew up with all that angry music. Tonight I want to have fun.” She started scanning through the radio stations, passing over jazz, hip hop, and modern rock stations, before she found the song to stop the dial. “Oh hell yeah, here it is!”
The sound of a harmonica in a rhythmic country groove came over the speakers, and she started swaying in her seat to the music. She looked over at me and smiled sexy enough to melt an iceberg.
“If you wanna get to heaven, you got to raise a little hell,” she cooed, and I nearly ran off the road.
I grew up in the seventies and remembered the song. Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Never thought of this tune as sexy, but once she started singing it, I changed my mind.
You know, there are certain images that you feel will forever be ingrained in your memory, and watching her shimmy and sway in her seat to the country rock classic, singing it word for word with her head hanging out the window, assured that it would be scorched into mine. There are some days even now, that when I get behind the wheel of the car and turn on the radio, all I can see is Summer laughing and singing to that song. And when she propped one of her feet up on the dash, and her dress slid up just a little to reveal the full shape of her leg, I knew we were going to be in a ditch if I didn’t concentrate on the road.
If she had let down her guard in the orchard, and afforded me a glimpse of her crumbling soul, out here on the road with “if you wanna get to heaven” blaring at top volume, brought her back to the fun loving girl she wanted everyone to believe she was. And in that moment, I truly believed this was the girl she wanted to be: in love with life and trying to infect everyone else with that same zest. I grinned as she let out a long playful squeal. We passed by an older couple sitting on a porch. I couldn’t help but laugh, because as we passed, I swore the couple were shaking their heads and perhaps mumbling something like, “dern kids.” They would have fallen off their porch swing if they knew it was a guy in his mid-forties and a sweet hell raising thing pushing thirty.
We spent about thirty minutes getting to the restaurant she had chosen. The long winding road led us from Orchard House into the heart of Bedford. Not far from the old rail yards that used to bring passenger trains through the area, we crossed a bridge, and she directed me to a small parking lot beside an old red brick building. A window in the front had painted on its glass, ‘Little Italy in the heart of the country.’ Above that, you could see traces of stenciled letters that must have, at one time, been the name of the place. Now it couldn’t be read.
After parking, and we walked to the front of the place. I could tell, just by looking in the front window, we were indeed overdressed. Several people in their everyday clothes sat around the tables. A young couple wearing jeans and tie dye shirts stared into each other’s faces over a large pizza. An older man in bib overalls sat in the corner hunched over his Stromboli . A pair of ladies shared a booth chatting, and they too were dressed casual. I looked at Summer and she realized how out of place we were going to look in our attire. To some, we may have even appeared like father and daughter sharing a formal dinner, rather than two lonely people on a date
“You ready to do this?” I asked.
She gave me a reassuring smile. “We aren’t here for them. We are here for us. “
“In other words, if they don’t like it, screw them?”
She grinned. “Exactly.” She reached for my hand and I opened the door.
There are times when you feel so out of place in public that when you open the door you imagine everyone has turned to look. This was not one of those times. When we came through the doorway, some dared to look up to see who had come in, but then they went back to their own world, leaving us in ours. It was a relief. Here they didn’t seem to care like they would have in the big city. Back home, I had seen how people stared, and often glared at May-December couples. If there was more than an obvious five year age difference you were nearly branded as either a lecherous old man or a gold digging tramp, something I was sure neither of us was. But here, there was none of that vibe. The waitress, a pretty dark skinned girl, greeted us with a smile that was both welcoming and genuine. She told us to go ahead and sit where we liked and the waiter would come take our order shortly.
We chose a small table at the very back of the place, in an effort to not only have privacy, but to continue going on unnoticed. The waiter, a young man of college age with the slight remainder of teenaged acne, soon arrived at our table, and set our menus in front of us. He took our drink order. Summer had tea; I ordered root beer. Sitting across from me, Summer barely glanced at the menu. Instead, she looked up at the waiter, who seemed so awestruck by her you could have pushed him over with the slightest nudge, and asked him if they served Cheese Calzones. Speechless, he nodded and she flashed him a smile. “I’ll take one then, sport.”
You would have thought she called him Babycakes or something, for his enamored face flushed and he replied, “My pleasure.” I wondered if he was thinking about her order at all. Still, he wrote it down on his order pad, and turned to me. I couldn’t help but tease him. “Spaghetti, sport,” I said. He didn’t seem to like it that a man called him sport, and he turned towards the kitchen with our order.
“You’re so bad,” Summer said. “I can’t believe you called him sport.”
“You said it first.”
“Maybe I should have called him sexy sport.”
“You trying to make me jealous right off the bat?” I asked.
She teasingly smiled. “A girl likes to have some power over her man.”
Her man. What a notion that was. I’m not sure how it made me feel to have her refer to me that way. In some ways it made me feel like the luckiest guy alive, but in others it scared the hell out of me. I wasn’t ready to be anybody’s anything, much less their man.
The waiter brought our drinks out. Maybe it was just me, but when he sat my drink down I could have sworn he intended my drink to splash out on the table a little. Summer snickered.
“I don’t think he likes you very much,” she reasoned.
“He better behave,” I joked. “Unless he wants a dollar tip.”
“Mmm, I like a tough guy,” Summer softly sighed.
“I thought you were all about nerds.”
“Oh yeah that’s right,” she replied playfully. “Had a relapse. Tough nerds then.”
I smiled. This was fun. A little playful banter never hurt on a date. Of course, it had been ages since I had even been on a date. Ashley and I had long passed that stage, and even date nights we had before our intended wedding, were dull, going through the motions affairs. We’d sit there and eat, maybe talk about our day, and then go home where she would do her thing and I would do mine. This date with Summer wasn’t anything like that. I was amazed by the fact that this was our second day knowing each other and already it was natural for her to flirt with me, and for I to try to break out of my shell to flirt back.
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.